Scenic USA - California

Wildrose Charcoal Ovens

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Wildrose Charcoal Ovens - Death Valley, California

Photo by Rob Jones
Rob's Death Valley Trip Report

     Death Valley has been traditionally thought as a lifeless, barren desert. First time visitors will be surprised to see the diversity of its desert plants. Although the saltpan lacks any greenery, lower elevation creosote bushes and mesquite shift to blackbrush, Joshua trees, limber, juniper and pinyon pine on the slopes of higher mountains. Upper elevation pinyon pines monopolize the upper slopes, soaking in any moisture within reach. This short tree, with its upswept branches are often 300 to 400 years old, with some reaching 1000 years in age.
     One of the historic landmarks in Death Valley's Wildrose Canyon is a line of ten beehive shaped charcoal ovens. Part of a silver smelting operation for George Hearst's Modock Consolidated Mining Company, the charcoal kilns were used to convert cords of pinyon pine logs into charcoal. A small camp nearby housed as many as 40 woodcutters and a few workman who tended the kilns. Because the operation proved unsuccessful and short-lived, the ovens remain in remarkable condition.
     Each kiln, shown here with the Panamint Mountains providing a beautiful backdrop, measure 25 feet tall and would hold about 42 chords of old growth pinyon pine. After a week of simmering in the kiln, the charcoal was then transported to Argus Mine smelters by pack train and wagon. Designed by Swiss engineers and built by Chinese laborers, the kilns were completed in 1877. There's little evidence they were used after 1879.
     The Wildrose Peak Trail begins at the north end of the charcoal kilns, taking anywhere between four and six hours to reach the summit. As you may have guessed, hiking in Death Valley is best from October through April. Extra precautions should be taken when hiking in the desert, and being properly equipped and well supplied with an adequate amount of water is true during any season.

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